Thursday, January 17, 2019

Va'ya'aminu BaHashem u'b'Moshe avdo -- emunah after the fact?

"Va'ya'aminu BaHashem u'b'Moshe avdo..." 

That's emunah?! To believe after you see a sea split in two and watch your enemies drown?

Who would not believe under those circumstances?

What does the pasuk mean? 

(See Alshich, Ohr haChaim, Kedushas Levi, Maor vaShemesh... but I still don't understand it.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

hands down

Chazal tell us that the attack of Amalek happened because "rafu Y'DEIHEM min haTorah," because Klal Yisrael neglected their Torah learning.  Why the stress on "y'deihem?"  The Maharasham in Techeiles Mordechai quotes the Chazal that "Torah mateshes kocho shel adam."  That doesn't necessarily mean that a person who learns Torah is physically weak.  The Torah warns us that a person should not think his success comes from "kochi v'otzem YADI," his own strength and ability.  It's this koach -- the belief in the power of "kochi v'otzem YADI"  -- which Torah weakens.  Learning Torah humbles a person; the more one learns the more one recognizes the vastness and depths of the dvar Hashem and just how limited our own ability and insight is.  Because Klal Yisrael's dedication to learning fell a notch, "min haTorah," because of that loss, "rafu y'deihem," their perspective on the limits of the "kochi v'otzem YADI" was tainted.

The Mahrasham does not say it, but I think based on his approach we can understand why Klal Yisrael had to fight Amalek as opposed to being miraculously rescued as had happened at Yam Suf.  Since they invested trust in their kochi v'otzem yadi, Hashem responded in kind and let them use their own power to carry on the battle. 

Moshe's challenge was to shift their perspective.  "V'haya ka'asher yarim YADO..."  Moshe lifted up his hands and directed people's gaze to shamayim.  There is no power in "otzem yadi" -- our hands only have power when we connect to Hashem. 

"Va'yehi YADAV emunah ad bo ha'shemesh"  Ibn Ezra interprets emunah here either has steadfast or like the word "omain" (e,g. "Va'yehi omein es Hadasah"), to train, to nurture.  Our hands need to be trained to connect to Hashem. 

"YAD al keis K-h" -- the war with Amalek is won when we connect "otzem yadi," our ability, to the kisei of Hashem, the true source of power.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

hakaras ha'tov and yetzi'as Mitzrayim

We know that Moshe did not strike the Nile to turn it to blood because the river had protected him as a baby when his mother sent him floating downstream in his little basket.  We know that Moshe did not strike the ground because it was in the ground that he had hidden the body of the Egyptian that he killed.  This was Moshe's expression of hakaras ha'tov even to the inanimate objects that had done good for him. 

Why is hakaras ha'tov so intertwined with the story of yetzi'as Mitzrayim?  See my wife's post here.

And since I am mentioning blog posts by family members, see my son's posts here.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

win them over with kindness

Three short ideas:

1) On Jan 1 we had the privilege in the 5Towns of hearing a shiur from R' Baruch Simon.  One idea he quoted from R' Zecharya Gelly (of Breur's) b'shem R' Yonasan Eibshitz: Chazal tell us that the Egyptians did not enslave sheivet Levi.  Why should they have done such a thing?  It certainly was not out of the goodness of their hearts -- people with good hearts don't go around drowning babies and enslaving the rest of the population.

The Egyptians knew that that the go'el would come from the special sheivet of Levi that kept the mesorah of Yaakov Avinu alive.  They figured that if they don't oppress sheivet Levi, the sheivet will never feel the real pain of galus and shibud and therefore will never really be motivated to produce that go'el who will rescue the rest of Klal Yisrael from their plight.

What they did not count on was the tremendous empathy that Moshe Rabeinu had for his brothers.  What they did not count on was someone like Moshe who felt the pain of each Jew as it if was his own, to the point that Moshe would even argue with Hashem himself, "Lamah ha'reiosa la'am ha'zeh..."  Even if he was not personally subject to the shibud, Moshe suffered because he was nosei b'ol im chaveiro.

2) The Midrash (in P' Naso) writes that for every action Avraham took when he welcomed guests into his home, Hashem rewarded his children in kind.  In the zechus of "yukach na me'at mayim," the little bit of water Avraham offered his guests we were zocheh to "v'lakachti eschem li l'am" in our parsha.

Is this just a play on words -- just because the word "yukach" is used to describe what Avaraham did, we get rewarded with "v'lakachti...?"  What is the underlying connection between the action and reward? 

R' Shimon Sofer explains that they key is the one word Avraham used when he offered water that he did not use when he offered food, a seat under his tree, or anything else.  The magic word is PLEASE -- "yukach NA..." 

What was this water used for?  Rashi tells us that Avraham suspected his guests of being idolaters and worshipping the dust on their feet, and therefore he requested that they wash their feet before entering his home.

What Avraham Avinu is teaching us is that if you want people to wash away their avodah zarah, their materialism, their anti-Torah lifestyle, you need to say "Please."  You need to do it with kindness, with love, with chessed. 

So too, Hashem did not simply coerce us and demand that we follow him.  Rashi translates "kach es Aharon" in Parshas Tzav (VaYikra 8) as "kacheihu b'devarim u'mashcheihu" -- persuade him, draw him in.  ("Lakach" when speaking of objects means to take, but you don't pick up a person and take him/her like you pick up a chair. See also Rashi on "VaYikach Korach.")  "V'lakachti eschem li l'am": The overt miracles, the record of the yichus of the shevatim to remind us that we are free, proud people, the declaration "bni bechori Yisrael" -- Hashem showered us with love and kindness to make us feel special.  

The kindness Avraham showed those guests that attracted them to Torah became the kindness and love Hashem showed to us to draw us out of Mitzrayim to avodas Hashem.

3) V'lo sham'u el Moshe m'kotzer ruach u'mei'avodah kasha...  The majority of meforshim explain that it was Klal Yisrael who suffered "kotzer ruach" because of the burden of work.  However, Sivan Rahav Meir points out an amazing Ralbag who writes that it was Moshe, not Klal Yisrael, who the pasuk is referring to.  Moshe had kotzer ruach because he had not invested enough time into thinking about how to present his message to the people. 

Ralbag explains that Moshe was coming from a background of spending hours searching for G-d, being misbonen and misboded.  The way he understood things, the way he thought about G-d and communicated about G-d, was on a completely different level than that of Klal Yisrael.  And so he struggled to get the point across and translate it down to the level the people were on.

Moshe's struggle here is our struggle.  How do we as parents (or Rabbis, teachers, etc.) make ourselves understood, make our message clear and meaningful, to our friends, our families, to our children, who may not be holding where we are and may not see the world the same way we do?  Es chatai ani mazkir -- I plead guilty to making this error myself and watching my kids eyes glaze over as I say over what seems to me to be a perfectly beautiful shtikel Torah but which they don't relate to at all.  It's not that the shkitel Torah is bad -- it's my kotzer ruach in not figuring out how to present it properly to their ears on their level. 

Something important to keep in mind.